19 April, 2014

Phyllonorycters rule

Phyllonorycter harrisella

This was swept from a small oak tree on the patch this afternoon. Not much bigger than a grain of rice, but Phyllonorycter harrisella is just one of many minute beauties that emerge from their leaf-mines on deciduous trees in spring. Fantastic things.

17 April, 2014

More local moths (and beetles)

I haven't put the moth trap out in the garden since catching that Blossom Underwing last Friday, but some afternoon netting has turned up more colourful goodies in the past few days- notably the first record of Pammene rhediella for the garden, and a rather colourful Cydia strobilella. The latter is described as 'uncommon and very local' in VC17, usually associated with established spruce plantations. In the immediate area, the species appears to be thriving well off a large spruce tree two gardens down, with 2014 being the 4th consecutive year of recording it.

Pammene rhediella

Cydia strobilella

Probably the best find of late was caught on Wednesday morning in the bathroom shower, of all places, in the form of the nationally scarce Desmestid beetle Megatoma undata. Unlike other beetles in the same family, this is a non-introducted species usually found in dead-wood, well away from human habitation. This is clearly an interesting record of an insect keeping on top of personal hygiene...

Megatoma undata

Yesterday I went in search of Orange Underwing (Archiearis parthenias) and Light Orange Underwing (A. notha) in a few of the south London parks, but failed miserably to locate anything other than an early Cryptoblabes bistriga, a characteristic pyralid of oak woodland. A brief stop at Esher Common produced a small flock of Common Crossbill feeding in pines along the A3, as well as some neat Green Tiger Beetles and large swarms of the heather-feeding leaf beetle, Lochmaea suturalis.

Cryptoblabes bistriga

Green Tiger Beetle

16 April, 2014

Dusking for moths

Although we've being treated to a decent run of very warm and sunny spring days of late, we're also having to deal with some distinctly chilly, cloudless nights. Any normal person would shrug this off and just enjoy the sunshine, but for any self-respecting moth trapper the weather is atrocious!

In this kind of situation I wouldn't usually bother myself with the inevitable one or two moth catches that would result from putting a moth trap out, but instead go out dusking! It's as simple as it sounds- just pick a still evening, head out with a net and see what you find (trying not to look like a deranged weirdo whilst you do it is the hard part). My patch, Stokes Field, has a nice range of damp meadows which are generally sheltered from the wind but also manage to catch the last rays of sun, providing a bit of late evening warmth to encourage day/dusk-flying moths onto the wing. A half hour session last night as the sun went down resulted in a modest but nonetheless interesting total of 6 species...

Caloptilia syringella
50+ Cameraria ohridella
5 Elachista apicipunctella
200+ Elachista rufocinerea
1 Digitivalva pulicariae
16 Eriocrania subpurpurella

Cameraria ohridella

Caloptilia syringella

Elachista apicipunctella

Elachista rufocinerea

15 April, 2014

Hairstreaks, Skippers and Bluebells


With yesterday morning free from any commitments, I spent it having a gander around some good old chalk downland- a favourite habitat of mine that is somewhat lacking in Worcestershire. The steep slopes and open grassland around Dorking and Mickleham never fail to deliver something interesting, and I enjoyed a nice couple of hours in the sun armed with just a camera and a pocket hand lens.

I found a quiet path leading through flowering bluebell wood, the silence broken only by the song of a Firecrest as it worked its way along a line of ancient yews. Where the path opened up, dozens of Green Hairstreaks sunned themselves on the bramble and hawthorn scrub, remaining still for a few quick seconds before taking off to chase after any unwitting insect that happened to enter their air space. The species evaded me completely last year, so this was a very welcome sight...

Green Hairstreak

Further out on the exposed slopes, the first Dingy Skippers revealed themselves, feeding in the open around patches of Common Milkwort in the company of Peacocks, Orange-tips and Brimstones. Day-flying moths were well represented, with just about every flowering plant holding one or two Pancalia leuwenhoekella, their striking wing patterns becoming noticeable when caught by the sun, as well as the equally stunning Grapholita jungiella and Pyrausta nigrata.

Dingy Skipper

Pancalia leuwenhoekella

Grapholita jungiella

Common Milkwort

This view never gets old, especially when it's topped off with Green Hairstreaks and Firecrests...


13 April, 2014

Bookham invertebrates

The recent spell of decent weather continued for yesterday's LNHS survey at Bookham Common, and as usual I was treated to a number of new inverts in the company of the beetle and bug experts, with a welcome vocal supporting cast of Lesser Whitethroat and Cuckoo.

One particular large bug caught my eye resting on low vegetation by the LNHS hut, and turned out to be Box Bug (Gonocerus acuteangulatus), a species previously confined in its UK distribution to a single site in Surrey, but that has since expanded its range throughout the southern counties, making use of commoner foodplants.

Elaphrus riparius running across typical muddy, wet habitat.

Apion frumentarium- I've netted a number of vibrant red Apion weevils in recent weeks, but have been too afraid to key them out by myself!


Box Bug

Whilst everyone else had their heads to the ground, I kept an eye on the sky and managed a single moth 'tick' in the form of Agonopterix purpurea; a characteristic species of chalk grassland using wild carrot as a foodplant. Quite a nicely marked moth considering the genus it's in...

Agonopterix purpurea

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm rather liking the look of next week's forecast...

More lepidoptera please.

12 April, 2014

Moths... rare moths

In some kind of weird series of extremely unlikely events, the past 24 hours since returning from University have already seen me add two new species to the garden list, each one as completely unprecedented as the other. This exquisite Blossom Underwing was one of only two moths caught last night (the other one being a Common Quaker) on my first garden trapping session in over a month. The species came to light generously in Worcestershire's Monkwood reserve last week, but I never expected to catch it on the suburban Surrey/London border...


Just as extraordinary in its appearance as the Blossom Underwing was this Caloptilia culucipennella, netted within minutes of arriving home as it daintily flew through the garden. Various literature describe the species as rare and seldom recorded in Britain, and it appears that this silvery individual constitutes the 5th record for the county...


Cool. Mega cool. 

11 April, 2014

Goodbye Grimley...

It was only as I packed up and left Worcester for the Easter Holidays this afternoon that I realised just how much I'm going to miss Grimley over the next few weeks. Things were really starting to kick off, with a brief Little Gull last week and a fly-over Osprey reported on Tuesday whilst I partook in the rare practice of essay writing.

A brief session yesterday produced a lovely range of common migrants, with 2 Yellow Wagtail and 2 Common Sandpiper new in, joining 3 White Wagtail, 150+ Sand Martin, 6 Swallow and pair of Dunlin to bring the patch year list up to 85 species.

One of two Common Sandpipers feeding at close range on the shoreline yesterday evening.

Here's to some good old Surrey birding (and mothing) for the next two weeks!

10 April, 2014

Four days before this day last year...

I know most normal people normally do these kind of anniversary tributes on the exact date of passing, but I'm not normal. It was exactly four days before this day last year that a male Bluethroat popped up in front of my flabbergasted face on the Isle of Wight. I feel it only necessary to remind you all of that fact...

... the one reason why my day was probably better than yours on 6th April 2013.

I'm afraid I can get quite nostalgic over previous springs, so you might have to sit through some more of this self-indulgent, sentimental rubbish in the next few weeks, especially as we move ever closer to the anniversaries of Stokes Field's first Redstart and Tree Pipit... those were the days.

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